Gary McSwegan insists benching Alfredo Morelos would be a gamble too far for Saturday’s Old Firm clash.
The former Ibrox striker doesn’t expect Rangers boss Steven Gerrard to roll the dice with his starting line-up despite the Colombian’s goal famine in this fixture.
It’s now 11 games and counting in the striker’s search for a goal against the champions, a penalty in the Betfred Cup Final defeat last season among a host of missed chances.
With the likes of Swiss international Cedric Itten and Kemar Roofe both credible options to lead the line this weekend, McSwegan is convinced it’ll be a case of better the devil you know in Gerrard’s team.
He said: “I understand all of the arguments which say Morelos should start on the bench but I don’t go along with any of them.
“Gerrard will always play his strongest XI for games of this importance and Morelos will be one of the first names on the teamsheet.
“At this moment in time, he’s a better option than either Cedric Itten or Kemar Roofe, of that there’s no question. It would represent too much of a gamble to leave Morelos out, it’s far too big a call and in my opinion it would be the wrong one.
“People will have their own opinion about who should start and there is a case to be made for all of the strikers at the club just now and that’s a reflection of how well things have been going.
“I just feel Morelos has that bit more to offer and certainly something to prove in this fixture.
“Let’s be honest he’s a fantastic footballer and has all the instincts of a top striker and above all that, he’s surely due to break his duck against Celtic.
“If not Saturday then it’ll happen soon but with Itten, the biggest issue is that he’s untried. We have seen glimpses of him such as his cameo against Motherwell when he scored a double. He looked the part and like Morelos, he’s still young and learning.
“I’ve heard friends and others say Morelos could be a good option as an impact player from the bench but again I believe it would be a mistake not to start him.”
A school of thought exists that Celtic defender Christopher Jullien doesn’t enjoy being confronted by a physical arm to arm combat of a striking opponent who prefers to go toe to toe rather than run the channels. Both Itten and Roofe have a bit of that brute force about them and McSwegan admits he wouldn’t be shocked to see Morelos begin Saturday’s clash in the dugout if Gerrard decides to go left-field to solve his striking conundrum.
The 50-year-old also believes the Colombian’s exertions this week on World Cup qualifying duty could well also work against him.
He said: “It’s a headache for Gerrard, but a good one to have as it proves that he has genuine options and he could well throw a curveball and start with Itten.
“Maybe he wants a physical battle in attack with the Celtic defence and Christopher Jullien in particular not too happy with that type of contest.
“Nobody will know better than Gerrard how to approach this game. He’ll have a few days’ training with the squad to assess the players closely and see how each one of them is performing. If Morelos is on the bench it wouldn’t come as a huge surprise to me.
“It’s a nice problem for Rangers and Gerrard to have. Itten played a small part of Switzerland’s draw with Germany on Tuesday and Morelos was involved for Colombia against Chile so travel could also be a factor.
“Gerrard will see the boys train Thursday and Friday so he’ll see who is ready and who’s been impacted by international duty.
“Nobody will have travelled further than Morelos, Gerrard will need to gauge how much that has taken out of him.”
If Morelos is to start all eyes will again be focused on a record which has still to deliver a derby goal.
But McSwegan is adamant that statistic only serves to cloud the bigger picture of plenty of positive performances in the biggest game in our domestic calendar.
He said: “The monkey is on his back but people only look at his goals account against Celtic, there is a bigger picture and he’s done a lot for his team in Old Firm games.
“There is an issue surrounding his failure to score in this fixture but that is hyped up by fans, pundits and media. He’s more than just a finisher, he occupies defenders brilliantly, he is a handful and he’s been very unlucky with some of the chances he’s missed.
“He’s still good enough, the best option for Gerrard, and why he’ll get the nod. People will get distracted by his failings, his disciplinary record and peripheral issues but his value to the team when he’s on form is priceless.”